Jeffrey S. Chase, May 27, 2018 – “In another employment-related development that has drawn little public notice, the Department of Justice on May 17 posted a hiring ad for 38 vacant staff attorney positions at the BIA. The twist is that for the first time, the positions were advertised as being entry level grade positions with no potential for promotion. EOIR Director James McHenry had hinted since his appointment that he believed BIA attorney positions should be downgraded. There is something disingenuous about such statement. I can think of at least three immigration judges who were appointed to the bench directly from their positions as non-supervisory BIA staff attorneys. Two of the four temporary BIA Board Members at present are long-term BIA staff attorneys. The present BIA chairperson, David Neal, previously served as a Board staff attorney for 5 years, a position that apparently qualified him to directly become chief counsel to the Senate Immigration Subcommittee. Nearly all of the BIA’s decisions, including those that are published as precedent binding on the agency and DHS, are drafted by its staff attorneys.
Some of those attorneys have accumulated significant expertise in complex areas of immigration law. A number of Board staff attorneys have participated as speakers at the immigration judge training conferences. The question thus becomes: how are experienced attorneys who are deemed qualified to move directly into immigration judge and BIA Board Member positions, to craft precedent decisions and to train immigration judges only deemed to be entry-level, non-career path employees? There has been much attention paid to the nearly 700,000 cases pending before the nation’s immigration courts. As the agency moves to hire more judges and limit continuances, and recently had its power to administrative close cases revoked by the AG, the number and pace of cases appealed to the BIA will speed up significantly. It would seem like a good time for the BIA to be staffed with knowledgeable and experienced staff attorneys. Instead, the agency’s move essentially turns new BIA attorney hires into short-term law clerks. New attorneys undergo a full year of legal training to bring them up to speed to handle the high volume and variety of complex legal issues arising on appeal. However, attorneys are unlikely to remain in such positions for much more than a year without the possibility of promotion.”